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Coakley Brothers glass water tower is an artistic beacon atop Milwaukee’s skyline

On September 21, the Coakley Brothers installed a water tower resembling an enormous mural of glass wrapped around a cylinder on top of their Walker’s Point building, and held an illumination event for the mosaic sculpture on September 26, officially shining a light on Milwaukee’s design district.

The 7.5 tons of plexiglass and steel was sculpted in the shape of the water tank that once sat on top of the Coakley building decades ago. The work serves as a beacon for the creative district in the redeveloping Walker’s Point neighborhood. It also draws attention to the $6 million renovation underway with the Coakley building, already the tallest in the area, at 400 S. 5th Street.

Designed by Brooklyn-based artist, Tom Fruin, the kaleidoscopic art sculpture features colored plastic and steal arranged in a chromatic patchwork pattern. Coakley Brothers President and CEO Peggy Coakley, first discovered Fruin’s work while visiting West Elm’s Brooklyn headquarters in 2016.

“My mouth dropped and I had my driver pull over to get a better look,” Coakley said. “The beauty of the piece was striking. I immediately thought of our own water tower base on top of our building and the possibility of putting one of these on our rooftop for the city of Milwaukee. I knew I needed to find the artist and bring this home to Milwaukee.”

The 20-foot-tall sculpture sits ten stories in the air, and will be illuminated from dusk to dawn daily. It can be seen and enjoyed by all of Milwaukee, with prominent sight lines from the Hoan Bridge, I-94 high rise bridge, and Walker’s Point neighborhoods.

The lighting ceremony took place with a crowd of hundreds in attendance. Both business and city leaders, including Commissioner Rocky Marcoux and Alderman Jose Perez, were in attendance. The artist, Tom Fruin, was also a featured guest.

“You’ll get a glimpse of the water tower sculpture from nearby backyards and peaking out over factories, it’ll brighten your commute when seen from the freeways,” Fruin said.

The Coakley Brothers Water Tower art project extends Fruin’s internationally acclaimed Icon art series. Similar to Fruin’s previous artworks, the soaring sculpture will crown the building and feature salvaged plexiglass, plastic and steel arranged in a chromatic patchwork pattern. The inspired design provides a unique, kaleidoscopic adaptation of the water towers that heavily punctuated the American urban skyline throughout the 20th century, including at this Coakley Brothers headquarters.

“I never thought I’d see something like this on top of our building,” said 87 year-old Neil Coakley, Peggy’s father and retired CEO of the 129-year-old company. “At night when it lights up, you’ll be seeing it across the city. That’s going to be real fun.”

The company is well known for its commercial relocation, facility management, and self-storage services, has seen tremendous success with the 2012 launch of its office furniture and business interiors design division, Brothers Interiors. Since that time, Coakley has become the “official office furniture dealer” of the Milwaukee Bucks, and the state’s sole dealer and showroom for the West Elm Workspace with Inscape line.

Coakley hopes the public will see the sculpture as a symbol of pride for the city’s diverse and vibrant citizens and a symbol of how neighborhoods and cities can be progressive and forward-thinking, while still being true to their roots. Coakley Brothers was founded in 1888 by three brothers in the heart of Milwaukee.

These images feature highlights from the water tower installation lift, and the lighting ceremony a few days later, documenting what will be a historical addition to the view of Milwaukee.

© Photo

Lee Matz

About The Author

Lee Matz

Former Creative Director and Photojournalist for the Milwaukee Business Journal, Lee brings his years of international experience as a foreign correspondent in Asia and Europe, with a background in publishing, advertising, and design, to the Milwaukee Independent. His list of awards include three consecutive top honors from the Milwaukee Press Club. Lee proudly uses MCTS as his exclusive mode of transportation, other than walking, for all the news stories he reports about in Milwaukee.

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